On its 25th edition of ADCOM 2019, an international conference on Advanced Computing and Communications, ACCS (Advanced Computing and Communications Society) released Special Postal Covers through the Department of Posts, Government of India in honor of four pioneering individuals who played a pivotal role in India’s emergence as a fount of talent in the field of computing and communications. Three of these are academicians, one is a retired bureaucrat who helped India scale the IT revolution and stay on top of it.
The Special Postal Cover was released by Charles Lobo, Chief Postmaster General, Karnataka Postal Circle, Department of Posts, at the ADCOM 2019 event on 5th September 2019. The four honorees are Late Dr. N. Seshagiri, Prof. V. Rajaraman, Dr. S. Ramani and Shri. N. Vittal, the pioneers who made significant contribution to the field of computing and communications technologies in India. Two of the honorees, Prof. Rajaraman and Dr. Ramani were present during the release ceremony. We bring here a brief profile of the four gentlemen.
Dr. N. Seshagiri
Dr. N. Seshagiri was the Founder Director General of National Informatics Centre (NIC) and former Special Secretary to Government of India. He was a brilliant pioneer of growth of India’s IT Industry. He was awarded a Ph.D. at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore in Microwave Telecommunication Engineering. Subsequently he moved to TIFR and worked on satellite communications and space-craft design. He was awarded the prestigious “Vikram Sarabhai ” award for ‘optimal design simulation of low energy consumption spacecraft design’.
Under Prof. M. G. K. Menon then Director of TIFR, Dr. Seshagiri established the Electronics Commission at Central Government level in Delhi. Dr. Seshagiri architected the first document on Perspective Plan for growth of electronics industry in India. As a mark of acceptance and approval of the report the Central Government approved the setting up of a National Data Centre at School of Life Sciences & Automation at J.N.U, New Delhi.
In 1976, the Department of Electronics set up the National Informatics Center to provide Informatics led improvements to various Government Departments and Ministries. Dr. Seshagiri was entrusted with independent responsibility as its first Executive Director. At NIC, Dr. Seshagiri created the nationwide computer network (NICNET) and drafted the software and hardware policies that revolutionized information technology (IT) in the country. He was instrumental in setting up the DISNIC Programme in the country to usher in the ICT revolution in over 520 districts in 1987. In 1998, under the Chairmanship of Prof. MGK Menon, he was the Member-Convener of the prestigious National Task Force on IT which drafted the national IT policy with 108 recommendations to ‘transform India into a global software power by 2008’. He played a key role in the setting up of the software technology parks of India, which led to the emergence of Indian IT bellwethers such as Infosys and Wipro in Bangalore three decades ago. He was instrumental in getting the US-based global chip maker Texas Instruments to open its offshore development center in Bangalore, with his ‘flood-in and flood-out software policy’. Dr. Seshagiri not only shaped computerization policies but brought to reality the software exports and systems manufacturing industry in India.
Recognizing his massive and unique contributions, he was awarded Padma Bhushan, Vikram Sarabhai award, O P Bhasin award, Asiad Jyoti award, Karnataka Rajya- Utsav Jyoti award, to name a few.He took Voluntary Retirement from government service in February 2000. Subsequently he served as Professor Emeritus at IISc- Bangalore and offered technical consultancy in frontier areas of IT.
Prof. V. Rajaraman
Prof. V. Rajaraman obtained his Diploma in Electrical Communication Engineering in 1955 from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (IISc) and stayed on in the institute where he designed and constructed nonlinear units for an analogue computer and applied it for solving a number of engineering problems. He obtained his Master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge and his Ph.D. from University of Wisconsin-Madison for his research on adaptive control systems. He started his career as an assistant professor of statistics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1962, he returned to India to work as an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IITK). He went as a visiting assistant professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley during the period 1965–66. It was during this time, he shifted his focus to the then nascent discipline of computer science.
In early 1965 Prof. Rajaraman along with his colleagues, initiated a new MTech programme with Computer Science as an option; the first time the subject was being offered as an academic discipline in India. Later, he helped introduce a doctoral program, too, and the group led by him pioneered the use of decision tables in the development, debugging, and optimization of complex computer programs. He initiated the first B.Tech. programme at IITK in 1978 with an initial batch of 20 students. He became a senior professor at IITK in 1974 and stayed there till 1982. He moved to the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and developed low-cost parallel computers and a supercomputing facility of which he served as the chairman from 1982 to 1994. During his tenure at IITK and IISc, he guided 30 students in their doctoral studies. He published over 70 scientific papers in national and international peer-reviewed journals and 23 text books, including the first on computer programming published in India titled Principles of Computer Programming, Computer Programming in FORTRAN 90.
As a member of the Electronics Commission during 1979–82, he chaired a committee which recommended the introduction of a new academic programme called Master of Computer Applications (MCA) for BSc and BCom students foreseeing the impending human resource shortage for the IT industry. This was a unique program in India. He was a council member of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) from 1986 to 1988. He served as a consultant to a number of Public Sector Units.
He chaired a committee set up by the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister in 1987 that recommended establishing Centre for the Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) to design and develop supercomputers in India using parallel computing technology. He was a member of CDAC’s governing council in its formative years. He was TataChem professor at IISc from 1991 to 1994 and the IBM Professor of Information Technology at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCAR) from 1994 to 2001. He was a member of the board of directors of CMC Ltd., and a number of private sector companies.
Dr. S. Ramani
Dr. S. Ramani is the only Indian to be inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame, a recognition program that celebrates living history of the internet and individuals. Dr. S. Ramani was the director of NCST (National Centre for Software Technology) which later transformed into CDAC (Centre for Development of ADvanced Computing).
Having obtained his masters and Ph.D. in electrical engineering specializing in Computer Science between 1962 and 1969, Dr. Ramani joined TIFR (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research) where he spent 21 years before joining NCST as its director.
While at NCST Dr. Ramani proposed an Indian Academic Network in 1983. He contributed to the launch of the ERNET project, involving a number of institutions that created R&D teams in networking. As coordinator of the ERNET team, he led the efforts to set up ERNET’s central mail switch and its international gateway, starting with a link to Amsterdam in 1987, using TCP over X.25.
This was the first such international connection from India. A year later, his team connected ERNET to the UUNET in Falls Church, Virginia, as well. Partnering institutions of ERNET, in cooperation with Ramani’s team at NCST, set up domestic TCP/IP links to extend the network nationwide.
Earlier in his career, Ramani led a team to create communication software for an Indian-made computer in 1976-77, using it in the education field. He played a key role in connecting three cities in 1981 through an ex-perimental satellite-based packet switching network, and co-authored a pioneering paper proposing a Low Altitude Equatorial Satellite for computer messaging in 1982. This proposal led others to build such a satellite and to demonstrate its utility internationally.
Dr. Ramani was the Director of Science and Technology of HP Labs in India and later joined IIITB as Professor. He currently proudly dons the role of writer and blogger demystifying technology and science for the common man.
Dr. Ramani is a true people’s scientist. From his work of getting Internet connectivity to India to bringing technology to the field of education and helping make technology accessible to common man, he has donned many roles.
Shri. N. Vittal
Shri. N. Vittal is from the IAS cadre 1960 batch. He is widely considered as a key player in making India a giant in software exports. As Secretary Department of Electronics, Shri Vittal played a vital role in shaping up the fledgling software exports industry.
He influenced reduction of Satellite link charges, exempting profit tax and zero excise rates for software exporters which gave the much-needed fillip to the sector. As Secretary to the Government of India, he initiated policies for boosting software, setting up software technology parks and strategic alliance with the industry. Also he was successful in introducing the electronics hardware technology Park scheme, whereby, mini Hongkongs and mini Singapores could be created in India to boost manufacture of electronic hardware. He made the Department of Electronics a frontrunner in adjusting to the new industry-friendly policy, encouraging foreign direct investment from IBM, Motorola etc.
His successful stint in Department of Electronics placed Shri. Vittal in the center of India’s telecom revolution. As Chairman, Telecom Commission and Secretary, Department of Telecommunication, Shri. Vittal oversaw the most successful modernization programme of this scale any country has even undertaken in its communications infrastructure with such speed and far reaching impact.
As Chairman, Telecom Commission he initiated the process of liberalization in the telecom sector and played a major role in getting the National Telecom Policy 1994 approved and announced.
He was also Chairman, Public Enterprises Selection Board and before retirement his last appointment was Central Vigilance Commissioner. His experience of more than 35 years covers a wide spectrum with focus on industrial administration, science and technology and security.
His published works include – India Incorporated: Reflections on the Indian Electronics Industry (1994), The Viscious Cycle of Vittal’s Law (1994), The Red Tape Guerrilla (1995), Fighting Corruption and Restructuring Government (2000), and Information Technology: India’s Tomorrow. He has edited Export Processing Zones in Asia – Some Dimensions published by Asian Productivity Organization (1977).
He is a regular columnist for the Economic Times and the Web magazine Rediff on the Net. He is included in the list of “Fifty men and women who shaped the economy”in the fifty years after India’s independence by the Business Today. He is the Honorary Fellow of the IETE. He is a recipient of Padma Bhushan award by the Government of India which he received in 2012.
As the CVC, Shri. N. Vittal brought in the power of information technology to streamline one of the pillars of Democratic process, the general elections. He was perhaps one of the most admired public administrators India has produced.
His favourite quip whenever the talk of India having a population problem was: “What the world does not know is that we have a billion Necktop super computers at work.”